After a wasted homestand, the Atlanta Braves are in trouble

This man isn't a bad manager, but his team is going through a bad patch. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This man isn't a bad manager, but his team is in a bad patch. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

If you check the standings, the Braves are still OK — four games behind Washington in the National League East, nicely positioned in the wild-card chase. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad:

If you watch them play, you see a team in trouble.

A homestand that began 2-0 wound up 3-6, with a week on the road — first the Bronx, then Boston — coming. “There are a lot of guys in here frustrated right now,” Chipper Jones said Sunday.

June began with the Braves wondering about their starting pitchers. The rotation has stabilized — although a rotation awaiting an MRI on its best arm can’t quite be described as stable — but now the losses are coming hand over fist. Randall Delgado yielded two runs over eight innings Sunday, and it mattered not.

This wasn’t one of those games where the Braves left a zillion runners at second and third. They pushed only two runners into scoring position, both of those in a third inning that came undone when Delgado bunted into a 1-6-4 double play. Contrast this with the Baltimore sixth, when pitcher Wei-Yin Chen sacrificed Steve Pearce to third. Delgado began to pitch from the windup, whereupon manager Fredi Gonzalez whistled to warm Delgado to work from the stretch, whereupon the addled rookie halted his delivery and balked Pearce home.

If a guy pitches a one-hitter against you, you take your loss and tip your hat. (Jason Hammel had done just that Saturday night. Sure enough, Gonzalez said: “You’ve got to tip your hat to him.”) To lose another winnable game in a week that saw three winnable games lost gives greater pause. Are the Braves turning into one of those clubs that does just enough to lose?

Said Jones: “There’s a lot of pride in here. We’re going to go up there [to Yankee Stadium] looking to win a baseball game.”

Then this: “The only thing we need to do is to avoid pressing.”

Which is hard to do when you’re losing. The Braves hit into double plays in innings 1, 2 and 3. (First Jones, then Jason Heyward, then Delgado’s failed sacrifice.) That did suggest a batting order that was getting antsy. But then they came to the game’s final out, when Gonzalez thought too far ahead.

The right-handed Matt Diaz, who was hitting .120 against righties, was allowed to bat against Orioles closer Jim Johnson. With left-handed hitters Brian McCann and Eric Hinske available, why not deploy one? Gonzalez’s reasoning: He planned to pinch-hit McCann for David Ross if both Diaz and Heyward reached, and if Hinske had been used in Diaz’s slot there was a chance the pitcher’s spot could roll around with the tying run at third and nobody to hit except Tim Hudson, who’s a pitcher.

The counterpoint: If Diaz makes an out, all points are moot. And it should be noted that Gonzalez had sacrificed the left-handed Juan Francisco in the eighth not because Jack Wilson is a better hitter — Wilson isn’t a better hitter than many people in the big leagues — but because he hits right-handed and the O’s had just summoned lefty Troy Patton. (Wilson popped to first.)

The impression — heck, the reality — was that the manager of a team that had lost five of six suffered a sixth loss in seven games without using either of the two left-handed hitters on his bench against a righty closer. Had Diaz ripped a single (or drawn a walk), we would applaud Gonzalez’s patience. Instead Diaz whiffed, and his final swing was as meek as the rationale that put him in that spot.

This isn’t to suggest that Gonzalez is overmatched or that his team has stopped playing for him. He’s a solid baseball man, and there has been little to suggest his men aren’t trying. But these past four weeks — the Braves have lost 15 of 24, and that’s with a six-game winning streak mixed in — have put a hitch in this team’s swagger. First the Braves weren’t pitching well enough, and now they’ve stopped hitting.

“We blew a couple of four-run leads [on the homestand],” Jones said, “and those would have gone a long way toward having people not take a loss like today’s so hard.”

Add two wasted leads to the losses-for-no-reason that closed the sets against the Yankees and the Orioles, and you have a well-pitched-but-wasted homestand. (And with Brandon Beachy out, there’s no guarantee the starting pitching will be this good again anytime soon.) It’s still too early to say the Braves’ season teeters on the brink, but it’s not too early to suggest they need to stop losing winnable games.

By Mark Bradley

363 comments Add your comment

MD braves fan

June 17th, 2012
6:03 pm

Thanks Mark for an anctual realistic view of this team and its over matched manager. Someone had to tell it like it is. This team will be way out of it by the time they do the right thing and fire Frediot. DOB probably asked him what his favorite color is, and then they left for a ride on their Harleys.

What?

June 17th, 2012
6:04 pm

Why is the manager who never pitched or played in the big leagues telling his pitcher to pitch from the stretch when he’s about to do what he is comfortable doing? Makes a lot of sense.

TomP

June 17th, 2012
6:06 pm

Braves aren’t AL East material. Few teams are, fortunately for them they are in the NL East, a winnable division so no need to panic.

mountain_jim

June 17th, 2012
6:06 pm

The last 2 series, Gonzalez has proved to be ‘overmatched’ in my opinion

Sparks

June 17th, 2012
6:06 pm

Send Francisco to Gwinnett and bring Constanza back up…please.

Joe Mama

June 17th, 2012
6:06 pm

Nah, don’t be scared, Fredi IS a terrible manager. He proved it over the last week, and the entire last month of the ‘11 season.

Nanny

June 17th, 2012
6:08 pm

An absolute disgrace. This team has a loser mentality that cannot be overcome. I hope I am wrong come October, but it is painfully clear that they are useless.

shorty

June 17th, 2012
6:10 pm

Enter your comments here

shorty

June 17th, 2012
6:11 pm

Two words…Fire Fredi!

archie

June 17th, 2012
6:11 pm

Good job Mark, it’s nice to read some informed commentary instead of the usual spoon-fed rah-rah blather. As far as Frediot being a good baseball man, we agree to disagree. I don’t see an engaged tactician. I see someone with the confused expression of a dog being asked to drive a car.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

June 17th, 2012
6:18 pm

went to the game today w/ my father…crowd was dead just as the braves. who do i contact to get my $$ back & wasting 3 hours of my life??

Marteen is a Ballplayer

June 17th, 2012
6:18 pm

Mark:

Nice article. I was waiting for Schultz to come back and bring up Fredi G. I was a big fan of the hire last year. By mid-season, I had seen enough. Every manager takes grief, but Fredit G consistently mismanages the pitchers and the bench. He makes Bobby Cox look too aggressive in comparsion, and that it hard to do. Last year, he left Ascensio (sp) in too long and we blew a 5-run lead. Fortunately for him, the team came back and won in extra innings. This year with Toronto he stuck with Livan too long until the game was out of reach. Against the Yankees, he stuck with Venters to the game was out of hand…why not Kimbrel in the 8th? Even the announcers questioned it. No one in the media broached the subject until the bloggers wouldn’t let it go.

I don’t know what goes on in the clubhouse and I don’t have all the answers, but Fredit G mismanages the pitchers and the bench like no other. A manager can only impact a handful of games each year. He has botched three possible wins in one week. Do you truly believe the Braves would not have made the postseason last year if Bobby or another competent manager was leading the team? Where do you see the Braves this year with Bobby at the helm?

Timbo

June 17th, 2012
6:20 pm

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

June 17th, 2012
6:22 pm

saw fredi ho hummed his way out there to argue the balk call- no fire in him. he needs to get rowdy & get ejected to fire up his players. such a pansy when comes to arguing with the umps

Fredi Will Screw It Up Somehow

June 17th, 2012
6:24 pm

Ummmm…. YA THINK?!

Old Dog

June 17th, 2012
6:25 pm

Well done Mark.

David S

June 17th, 2012
6:25 pm

need pitching and better conditioning…. When Freeman comes back, I’ll give him 2 weeks at the most before he’s hurt again… And whats up with all the days off… bunch of wusses…. team needs to man up or there needs to be some moves made to get those types of players…

NorCal Brave

June 17th, 2012
6:26 pm

Chipper came close to saying it: Fredi’s pitching changes ( bringing in Livan vs. Jays and pulling Minor vs. Yanks) have had a ruinous effect on the team’s psyche. Braves hitters are doing what they always do when runs get scarce: press like crazy. The Simmons call-up was a shot in the arm. Only a Fredi Gonzalez can make it disappear this fast.

Fredi Will Screw It Up Somehow

June 17th, 2012
6:27 pm

“This man isn’t a bad manager…”

LOL! Good one, Mark.

tennisbrave

June 17th, 2012
6:28 pm

Good article on telling like it is. Fredi is in over his head and I think most Braves fans realize it by now.

Timbo

June 17th, 2012
6:31 pm

Steinbrenner would have fired Fredi after last years disgusting collapse and this years losing streak and down right losing ways of late. He would have been right for doing it too. There are some unemployed talented proven major league managers waiting for a call.

Timbo

June 17th, 2012
6:34 pm

True Dr K… Bobby and any other manager would have gotten himself thrown out of at least one game, maybe even two during that gawd awful losing streak and this gawd awful homestand.

Rick

June 17th, 2012
6:35 pm

Dr. Kenneth, he likely came out of the dugout just to get an explanation, not to argue. And the call was the correct one. Getting himself ejected there would have served no purpose.

Doofus(Goober and Gomer's Smart Brother)

June 17th, 2012
6:37 pm

From MB: “This man isn’t a bad manager, but his team is in a bad patch”. That has to be one of the most comical comments I have heard all season. If he wasn’t serious I would think he was kidding. A team doesn’t score but 4 runs in 27 innings, leaving 33 on base, and he is not a “bad manager”. Guess what a good manager would do? He would manufacture runs, you know, like Sparky Anderson, and Earl Weaver use to do, with bunts, steals, hit and run, etc. HE WOULD ALSO HAVE HIS PLAYER’S BACKS and QUESTION THE REALLY BAD CALLS BY THE UMPIRE! Not just be a robot and sit in the dugout, and say, OH WELL, tomorrow’s another day!

In despair

June 17th, 2012
6:38 pm

It has been said before — the AJC is not one of those papers that will launch a tabloid tirade to drive a manager out of town. It is time. Stop pulling punches. Fredi is not a bad man, he is a very weak manager.

bill

June 17th, 2012
6:40 pm

I cannot take it no more. Big time Braves fan (forever) but the team seems to have a no-care attitude (just like late last year) so I’ll be taking a break for a while. This team has a bunch of hackers and do not know how to manafacture a run. They have no heart and are still a Bobby Ball team which is we need good pitching and a couple of homers to win. When that is happening they seem to do OK but there is no plan B (for the most part). I have watched a lot of the games and just do not see the desire to win. I t looks like Simmons is the only player that seems to have a dejected and sad look on his face after all of these losses. The other players just seem to be in a daze and cannot wait to brag about how good the other teams pitcher is.. Not a whole lot has changed on this team since Bobby left and its time for a complete makeover.

Stinger 2

June 17th, 2012
6:42 pm

To all those who want Fredi fired: Note that Mark did not call for this and was, inmy opinion very objective in his assessment of him. Please calm down and give this team a chance to play out of this slump. They can and will if the fans will be loyal, patient and stop the needless ranting to fire Fredi.
And to Sonny Clusters: Please be a reasonable fellow if you post tonight.
Thank you.

DaveinNEPA

June 17th, 2012
6:42 pm

I too applauded the hiring of Fredi G. at the time. I’ve seen enough this past week to see that this guy just doesn’t have what it takes to lead this club.

These players probably feel like their season is being sabotaged by the stupid moves their manager makes. (and yes, the players do talk among themselves about this stuff).

I Don’t think FW is going to be in any hurry to make this right though, because he’s the one who made the hire, and he’s the one who didn’t bother to interview anyone else for the job. Firing Fredi would make Frank Wren look bad so don’t expect it anytime soon.

Just for the record, I wasn’t exactly enamored of Bobby Cox either, but he was far better than what we got now.

Joe

June 17th, 2012
6:44 pm

That’s just it, Fredi is overmatched. The guy is a horrible manager and now we see why Florida fired him. We thought we got lucky when he was suddenly available when Bobby’s retirement was close at hand. I predict 2012 is his last year in Atlanta.

Amos Magliocco

June 17th, 2012
6:45 pm

Gonzalez is absolutely over matched. He lacks the charisma to motivate his team and the tactical awareness to match opposing managers–the latter is probably more damaging to the club’s psyche than anything. They’ve watched Bobby Cox their entire careers. You think they can’t tell the difference? The tragic aspect is that a young, talented roster is in the hands of this deeply confused and ineffective leader.

ezekile

June 17th, 2012
6:48 pm

Been a long time since the Braves were competitive and relevant on a consistent basis. Schuerholz and company were geniuses back when Ted had one of the highest payrolls in the league. When the payroll budget dropped back to middle of the pack the wins dropped back to middle of the pack. Turned out Schuerholz and company were only as smart as the money.

You heard it here first: This team will collapse and in a desperation move they will can Gonzalez and bring Bobby back for the last 6 to 8 weeks of the season to try and energize the team and the fan base.

What?

June 17th, 2012
6:49 pm

Wren won’t fire Fredi. Instead, the blame gets put on hitting coaches, bat boys, etc. Livan was released. At least he swallowed his pride on that signing. It’s time for new ownership who will replace anyone and everyone if needed.

Kevin

June 17th, 2012
6:49 pm

The owner of the Marlins knew what he was doing when he fired Gonzalez. Blame the balk on him.

Doofus(Goober and Gomer's Smart Brother)

June 17th, 2012
6:51 pm

Rick, don’t really think it would have mattered one way or the other even if FG had gotten himself ejected there. In fact, things may have gotten better. FG has more of a negative effect on the game than a positive one. What kind of manager yells at his pitcher(especially a young one) in the middle of his windup? He knew it was his fault, and that’s why he went to the ump. He usually doesn’t even budge from his recliner.

Sonny Clusters

June 17th, 2012
6:51 pm

We was reading where Fredi is getting B.o.B. to stretch out his arm just in case he’s needed in the next few weeks. We never knew about arm stretching until they sent Medlin down to stretch his. Now, he’s back and still in the bullpen. Go figure.

shorty

June 17th, 2012
6:53 pm

Its Past Time for the two failures Frank and Fredi to be fired..please John do the Right thing while the season is still salvagable.

George Stein

June 17th, 2012
6:54 pm

Fredi has to go. Period.

Sonny Clusters

June 17th, 2012
6:54 pm

If Chipper is so “frustrated” maybe he should take it out on a baseball. He is contributing nothing but talk. Team leader = Zero.

ezekile

June 17th, 2012
6:55 pm

We can only hope for new ownership. There needs to be a comprehensive enema with the arrogant, country club type Braves mentality. They act like they are still winning division championships every year when in reality they’ve stunk it up when you add up the past 7 seven seasons. Has David McDavid by any chance sold some cars lately and saved up his nickels to buy this mess?

Sonny Clusters

June 17th, 2012
6:57 pm

Bring Constanza back. Try to score a run. If you do, try to hold a lead. Play your best players. Play them in their best positions. Don’t keep messing things up.

Stinger 2

June 17th, 2012
6:58 pm

Regardless of anything all of you who want FG fired, you should be smart enough to know that it will never happen because of you opinions or what you say on AJC blogs. Why not just be realistic and don`t get so upset over the present situation.
Sure, its discouraging to lose some of the games like we have lost. But to say the manager is an idiot and the players have no heart is taking it a bit too far. After all we are very much in the race for NL East. No team is running a way with it.

durrtydogg

June 17th, 2012
6:58 pm

This is why I love the blog at certain times. You guys are right on. Our manager has no fire at all. The players do not respect him. He constantly makes the wrong decisions. I just can’t understand his thinking. Putting Chipper in the three hole today? Starting Hinske yesterday? Not pinch hitting for Diaz with McCann. The list goes on and on and on. He never argues. He always has this oh wo is me look on his face. We are in trouble.

Stinger 2

June 17th, 2012
7:01 pm

Clusters: Be patient with Chipper. He is not the whipping boy like you make him out to be.

Fastball

June 17th, 2012
7:01 pm

Nice to see the Atlanta media questioning what we’ve all seen. Chipper should manage. Glavine should become the pitching coach. Smoltz the bench coach. …Otherwise, I want to be a relief pitcher. I’m 65, from central Illinois, I’ve been a Braves fan since 1956, Fred Haney and the Milwaukee Braves. As a teenager I drove to Milwaukee to see them play. I bought ever gadget they sold to get radio reception so I could listen to the games. Then thank God for Ted Turner and TBS. In 1982 after an illness that wouldn’t let me work I got a sleeping room in Atlanta and bought a season ticket to the old Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. I sat right behind the on deck circle for Dale Murphy’s MVP seasons in the eightys. Now, I have the MLB Extra Inning package, only to be up staged by the Fox network. Why when I watch every game during the week do I have to watch the Cubs on Saturday. Come on MLB charge us extra (the real baseball fans) and give us those Saturday Game of the Week games. I promise to buy the same amount of beer and cars that I would have anyway. …But I won’t have to listen to Tim McCarver. …Was at the game in 1964 at Sportsmans park in St Louis when a New York Met popped up to him (McCarver, his rookie season, I think) for the last out of the 1964 season making the Cardinals in National League champs. Okay, so I’ve rattled on just like an old man, and thanks for listening. It’s nice to be with a family of Braves fans. Happy Fathers Day. Steve

Dammit

June 17th, 2012
7:03 pm

Pal Joey

June 17th, 2012
7:04 pm

We should have gotten a clue when the Marlins fired Fredi. His instincts are two moves behind the other team’s manager. Leaving Venters in to pitch to A Rod with the bases loaded, when Venters had already proved the only way he could find the plate was to throw it down the middle should have told him something. And leaving Livan in to toss batting practice in the Toronto game only underscored his inability to react in a meaningful way to a dismal situation.

But the Braves will likely putter along and win just enough games to get him through the season. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but I suspect he will never be more than a mediocre manager for any team in the majors. The Braves need a fire brand to come in and light a fire under them. They have rocked along for so long under Cox and now Fredi with such a low key attitude, a change of managerial attitide may be in order. The last month of 2011 was a disaster, and it is beginning to look like September 2011 redux. Injuries are one thing. The consistent inability to rise to the occasion and hit in the clutch is getting very tiresome and will inevitably affect attendance. Atlanta is not Chicago, and fans here do not exhibit the longsuffering attitude of a Cubs fan.

fsubrave

June 17th, 2012
7:05 pm

this team is just simply not that good..the starting pitching is average at best…it has loooked better the last week, but there are no superstars in the field….the best player is 40…trade bourne for a top flight pitcher like greinke and put costanza in CF….trade in July a big bat…

Sonny Clusters

June 17th, 2012
7:05 pm

Pretty good losing streak underway. Fredi didn’t have an answer in September and doesn’t appear to have one now. We was wondering if maybe they should get to the ballpark earlier (a Fredi idea) or maybe just all switch numbers and see if that will change things around. Sometimes companies will send their employees out for team building exercises and maybe that’s what the Braves need. Maybe they could all go on a deer hunt together during the All-Star break. They won’t have anything else to do.

Laughing out Loud

June 17th, 2012
7:05 pm

Although the Braves present streak is no laughing matter, fan response is certainly laughable! You want the manager to manufacture runs, well sorry folks the Braves players are the ones who hit, run, bunt, pitch and score the runs not the manager. While the manager as well as players can certainly be criticized, the common fan posting here has unrealistic demands and no positivie suggestions on how to right the ship. I say get off Fredi’s back and give him some positive encouragement and suggestions.

dandydawg

June 17th, 2012
7:06 pm

Yes, we are in trouble…. No leadership, no manager. The Bobby Cox style of management is not working. What’s next?